Mel Gravely at Flow conference
Mel Gravely at the Flow announcement press conference
Photo credit: Christian Thesken

One of the key goals for Greater Cincinnati's arts sector is to use the unique power of the arts to bring the community together to bridge cultural divides. That potential too often goes untapped, leading to declines in arts participation as audiences become both younger and more diverse.

In 2020, ArtsWave is breaking new ground, working with area businesses, foundations and individuals, to add more performances from diverse artists to the overall mix of our region's arts. This initiative is called Flow, an African American Arts Experience.

Flow will feature quarterly performances by renowned Black artists and ensembles from across the country, working in various disciplines. Guided by a steering committee of representatives from the region's major corporations, Flow is designed to showcase professional, evocative African American artists whose work is not otherwise coming to our region.

The goal of the series is to grow overall demand and appreciation for expressions of Black culture. We believe Flow will also lead to higher retention of talented African American employees, executives and entrepreneurs. This is especially important for African American professionals who relocate to the region from other cities and yet don’t see people like themselves or their culture represented consistently on stage. A void like this makes it difficult to create a sense of pride and place that ultimately can be replaced with the term, "home."

Flow will accomplish this broadened sense of home for everyone. The series is designed to complement the region’s existing African American cultural organizations and artists, together building a greater understanding of one another through a fuller appreciation for the beauty and variety of African American arts we have. If Flow’s successful, ArtsWave’s current portfolio of supported organizations, like Bi-Okoto, Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, Elementz Hip-Hop and more, will feel the lift of expanded and more diverse audiences. In fact, our vision is to create the most diverse audience in our city, awakening the broader community to the beauty and variety of all kinds of African American arts. Flow adds to our region's enviable arts offerings and accelerates our shared journey toward greater equity and inclusion of all cultural traditions.

My Co-Chair of Flow, Mary Stagaman, Vice President of Inclusion at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, sees Flow as an opportunity for the arts to leverage and nurture a diverse, culturally competent, and globally competitive workforce and community.

None of this would be possible without Flow's founding partners: Fifth Third Bank, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, P&G and the Cincinnati Arts Association, who also serves as the series' production partner. Additional founders include Duke Energy, GE, TriVersity, Cincinnati Enquirer, d.e. Foxx, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, who also is the series' youth education sponsor. Media sponsors include the Cincinnati Enquirer, The Cincinnati Herald and Radio One.

The 2020 series kicks off with a residency and performances by the internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company on February 21-22 at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. This marks DCDC's first full-length concert performances on a premier Cincinnati stage in more than a dozen years. Two evenings featuring hallmark works by the company, plus a new work, will inaugurate Flow. As part of their residency, DCDC will also conduct two student performances.

Following DCDC, Flow will bring award-winning jazz vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, the Movement Art Is ensemble led by artists Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, and Broadway actor and singer Norm Lewis. Click here for a full schedule of events.

Ultimately, we want the arts to lead Cincinnati in becoming a more inclusive, future-oriented city. We want a community that is more connected than divided – a community that seeks to understand the perspectives of one another. The arts, and Flow specifically, have that power.

We hope you come “flow” with us this February and throughout 2020. For more information about the initiative, visit artswave.org/Flow. Tickets for DCDC are on sale now at CincinnatiArts.org or by calling 513.621.2787.

Mel Gravely is TriVersity Construction Chief Executive Officer and Co-Chair of Flow's Board of Advisors.